By John F. X. Harriott, SJ
As the World Conference on Population ponderously gets under way, reflection rather than reportage seems to be the order of the day.
Sunday's opening ceremonies of the Population Tribune, a forum for non-governmental agencies, were completed in the Faculty of Law in Bucharest on Monday, in the Sala Palatului speeches by the SecretaryGeneral of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim, the President of Rumania, Islicolae Ceausescu, and the SecretaryGeneral of the Population Conference, Antonio Carrillo'Flores, inaugurated the intergovernmental debate on the world plan of action.
The Faculty building and the palace arc not only the physical poles of the conference but can be seen as psychological poles as well.
In the one are gathered several hundred representatives of diverse social, religious, and cultural organisations, most of them in close contact with the daily problems faced by ordinary people all over the world. They represent an extraordinary concentration of idealism and voluntary dedication despite their differences of viewpoints and ideologies.
In the palace are the politicians. representing power and the realities of power. How much mental traffic can pass between the two is the big question hanging over the biggest and probably the most important conference ever held under the acgiS of the United Nations.
It is an ironical question in a city where the bus services are excellent and fleets of brandnew, U.N. — Blue Dacia cars scud through the streets between the hotels and conference rooms, and a torrent of paper, including 74 background papers to the world plan, threatens to engulf the delegates.
Bucharest is a good place to reflect on the difference between economic and truly human development, between interior freedom and exterior constraints which have perforce to be accepted.
One is continually reminded of a famous line in John Donne's poem Good Friday where his body rides westward while his soul bends towards the east, but in reverse. The population issue was virtually submerged, and the development debate degenerated into political sloganeering to do with neocolonialism and liberation movements.
It may have been a foretaste of what is to come now that their elders have gathered.
Almost certainly the strongest instinctive force in the world conference debating chamber will be nationalism. The only counter to that is likely to be the influence, or pressure, of the great powers, especially the United States,
Within the United States delegation the strongest influence is exerted by the theoretically non-governmental population crisis group under the leadership 'of General William Draper. The U.N. fund for population activities has been heavily dependent on Gen Draper's genius for moneyraising.
There is little doubt that Gen Draper and his merry men want the world plan of action to be passed without substantial changes, and that in their eyes economic and social development run a poor second to population control.
There are many and grievous defects in the WPA. Its whole frame of reference is wrong. It is vague and full of contradictions. It deals with the symptoms of poverty rather than the causes.
It sets numerical population targets which have little relevance to the lives of the poor and powerless. Above all it ignores the global impact of the high consumption and pollution which are the hallmark of the industrialised nations.
I expect that during the next two !weeks these criticisms will be repeatedly heard in the conference hall, and that in the Tribune there will be much high-sounding rhetoric and many heartfelt pleas for the real needs of the developing countries, whether or not they have immediate population problems, to he given priority by the richer nations in terms of money and attention.
But I shall be surprised; indeed positively astonished, if it is idealism which has the final word. Look for the power and here the power is Gen Draper. He has built the telephone kiosk and the delegates can only dance within
It is a gracious city of parks, flowers, tree-lined streets, quiet secluded stone houses. Its people are ebullient, loquacious, friendly to a fault.
Pause for a moment in the street and in a flash there is someone at your elbow to point the way or show you to a bus. Sometimes they will go along for the ride and even stand talking for an hour or two on the pavement after you have repched your destination.
It has happened to me. There is plenty of bustle and vigour, the shops are fairly well stocked, food is cheap, there are signs of genteel poverty but none of destitution. But the animated life in the cafes and parks sometimes suggests a high-spirited couple trying to waltz in a telephone kiosk. The high spirits cannot be suppressed bu: there is little room for manoeuvre. The realities of power are recalled by the preparations for the thirtieth anniversary of the uprising in 1944: tanks, lorries and infantry rehearse their forthcoming